Unlike digital natives who were born and grew up in the digital age, senior audiences are not overly familiar with the new technologies. Mainly because circumstances have not required it, they remained a largely digitally silent segment. As with many areas impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown measures, the relationship seniors have with technology has changed. Not being able to rely on traditional support networks and services in shops, restaurants and other public spaces, the elderly see digital as an alternative to this enforced lifestyle change.
The shift in behaviour is not easy, particularly as technologies and digital services is something intuitive for this segment. However, as demonstrated by their increased usage of social media, this group offers an unexpected opportunity to brands (as well as a challenge).
Some of the industry giants recognised this shift in behaviour and crucially, key pain points and barriers thrown at seniors with the requirements of self-isolation and social-distancing. Telco, retail or even fashion industries are leading the way in taking this emerging group into account. Who else should start to consider this audience and why?
A high potential target, vulnerable in crisis
This pandemic highlights that seniors are among the most at-risk group during a crisis, particularly of a health nature. The World Health Organisation notes that over 95% of deaths due to Covid-19 concerned people older than 60 years, and 50% people aged 80 years and above. The isolation is likely to increase the feelings of loneliness and anxiety, giving responsible brands a reason to include seniors in their business strategies.
The lockdown measures implemented in most of the countries have been crucial in protecting the elderly. However, the isolation has also meant challenges and difficulties not faced before. Seniors’ daily routines were turned upside down and their consumption and purchase habits had to shift overnight. The adjustments needed meant changes to deeply rooted and established habits like grocery shopping and cooking. As established even before the Coronavirus outbreak, seniors represent a great opportunity to brands, through their focus on good quality products and premium services. Now is the time for the food industry to consider the senior audience as a high value target, in need of support. Apart from basic needs, the elderly have shown to be concerned by the aging process. As such, industries like beauty and wellness have already considered them as a high growth potential audience and should now seriously rethink how to engage them.
To limit exposure and health risks, the opportunity for social interactions is limited. Leading supermarkets decided to open shops early for people older than 70, and facilitate groceries delivery.
A huge social media usage increase, including the seniors
With consumers forced to stay at home, the use of social media has been increasing across the various audience groups and demographics, including the elderly category. Social media use by the older audience is actually not something new. However, we are facing today an unprecedented increase of their conversational volume on social media. Online content from the over 65 years old users rose significantly during lockdown. As shown on the graph below, we observed that the number of posts from the +65s, discussing food delivery and beauty specifically continued to increase between February and April this year.
Information extracted from Radarly
Indeed, digital has become today the best solution to change social isolation into social distancing, especially with online channels like Skype, Facebook or Facetime, used by seniors to communicate with people they care about.
My grandparents went to the gurdwara multiple times a day and it’s been really difficult to not have that right now. But on the bright side, they got an iPad and self-isolation is teaching them all sorts of skills, like answering my FaceTime calls 💛 pic.twitter.com/Ymd5bzOKOG— Gurveen Dhaliwal (@gurbeans) April 19, 2020
Not without any difficulties, the crisis forced the elderly to get ready to use video conferencing devices and softwares. This “experimentation phase” generated some surprising and funny situations.
talking to your grandparents on facetime is either looking at the ceiling or looking at their ear— dad bod mcgee (@christiannavas_) April 17, 2020
Even if a study from AARP found that smartphone adoption was already at 62% among adults aged 70 and older in January, the crisis highlights that most of the digital tools available on the market are actually not suited to this audience usage. An effort has to be done to facilitate functioning and improve quality of life for seniors. For the seniors experimenting with social media, we observed that they are slowly appropriating the tools in their own way, to accommodate specific needs.
Covid-19 got my grandma sending me prayer chain letters on Facebook— not nia (@realhousewifi) April 18, 2020
Appearing as a potential anti-depression therapy, online participation is slowly becoming familiar to a high number of seniors. The trend is unlikely to fully disappear after the crisis.
Some brands have already taken the plunge
Digital world is not easy to grasp for the elderly audience but it might be the only current alternative to the restrictions imposed by the outbreak. Consumers have already stated that the way brands behave during the pandemic is likely to impact their perception in the new, post-Covid-19 reality. Supporting the vulnerable and empowering the elderly audience is how brands can demonstrate their commitment to social values.
Facilitating the inevitable senior digitalisation is key. Lloyds understood that early and decided to equip their customers over the age of 70 with free tablets suitable to connect to the internet. Moreover, they set up a specific phone line dedicated to provide training and support with everyday digital tasks, including online shopping and connecting virtually.
The british telecommunications firm BT, which has been offering a range of online courses on using technology before lockdown, started using ITV advertising breaks to broadcast short technology lessons about GP and prescription services, online safety and using communications platforms like WhatsApp.
Whilst some brands provide support on digital devices, others focus on entertainment. Airbnb partnered with local organizations to curate free experiences for isolated seniors: Amigos de los Mayores (“friends of the elderlies”, an organization that addresses unwanted loneliness and social isolation among seniors in Spain), the National Council on Aging (which helps people over 60 in the US) and SAGE (a U.S. organization dedicated to improving the lives of older LGBT people). The idea is to provide activities to help the elderly stay connected to the world around them.
We're thrilled to be partnering with @Airbnb to help isolated #LGBTelders gain access to online experiences free of charge. HUGE thank you to @Airbnb for helping us serve those who are most in need of our support at this time. #COVID19 #LGBT https://t.co/iiiKqrTf3M— SAGE USA (@sageusa) April 13, 2020
More than including seniors in their marketing strategy, brands already showed that social media can be a new communication channel to reach this specific audience. Like the fashion brand Helmut Lang or Jacquemus, talking directly to this category and using egeries of this category, are matching carefully the needs and expectations of this new audience target online.
Puleng is a 66-year-old Welsh woman, originally from South Africa. Puleng wears pieces from the Helmut Lang Fall Women's 2018 collection, available now at https://t.co/WRnhACycEc— HELMUT LANG (@HELMUTLANG) August 15, 2018
Photography by Alex Leese and styling/casting by Charlotte James pic.twitter.com/A65ZVPy4qz
By helping the seniors to adopt digital and showing them a real interest in this category of people on the digital, brands are empowering and taking care of seniors in isolation. With those responsable marketing strategies, brands are actually capitalizing on the future.
A big untapped area for many industries
To help the seniors face this crisis of loneliness, fear and anxiety, we observed some good initiatives from innovative brands. Unfortunately, we didn't observe much interest in this high-potential target from industries such as CPG, Food and Beverage, which have a large proportion of their buyers in the elderly population. Not wanting to age, seniors are increasingly concerned about beauty, and the industry should be attentive and no longer hesitate to include them in their digital campaigns.
In a period of crisis, it’s very important to share empathy. Each solidarity or social approach is a way to activate this overwhelmed audience. To ensure campaigns and initiatives are considerate and relevant, brands should turn to the source. As the senior activity on social media increases, so is the data available to enrich knowledge on this specific target (e.g. with the help of the Meltwater social media management tool).